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Is Hanukkah A Jewish Holiday?
Hanukkah, often referred to as the “Festival of Lights”, is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BCE. According to the Talmud, a late source, the temple was purified and refurbished, and a menorah (candelabra) was lit with specially prepared olive oil. The oil should have lasted only one day, but it lasted for eight days. This miracle of the oil is celebrated on the holiday of Hanukkah.
Observed for centuries by Jews in the diaspora, the holiday has been embraced by the modern state of Israel and the Jewish diaspora. Hanukkah is observed for eight nights and days, starting on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, which may occur at any time from late November to late December in the Gregorian calendar.
On the first night of Hanukkah, a special nine-branched candelabrum, or menorah, is lit with a single candle. On each successive night, an additional candle is added until all eight candles are lit together. The ninth candle, called the shamash or sevivon, is used to light the other eight. Hanukkah candles are usually made of beeswax, but can also be made of paraffin.
Central to the Hanukkah celebration are the lighting of the menorah and the eating of special fried foods. During the festival, families gather to eat traditional holiday foods such as latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly-filled donuts). These foods allude to the miracle of the oil, as they are cooked in oil. Other special Hanukkah foods include cheese blintzes, challah, and bimuelos (fried dough).
The traditional Hanukkah greeting is “Chag sameach,” meaning “Happy holiday.” Other greetings, such as “Mazel tov,” are often used when wishing happy Hanukkah to friends and family. Hanukkah is traditionally celebrated with gifts, often money or small toys such as spin-the-dreidels or wooden tops.
Hanukkah is much more than a holiday of exchanging gifts and eating special foods. It is a time for reflection, prayer and thanksgiving, as one of the most important stories in Jewish history is remembered during the eight days and nights of Hanukkah. No matter how much these celebrations have changed over time, the story of the Maccabean Revolt and its importance to the Jewish people remain an integral part of Hanukkah.